Duck Hunting & Public Safety
Public safety laws seek to provide a safe environment for duck hunters to undertake their legal recreation while allowing members of the community who disagree with duck hunting to express their views safely.
Duck hunting in Victoria is a popular, legal recreational activity practiced by over 25,000 licensed hunters. Duck hunting has a rich tradition which encourages people to interact with our environment, creates an incentive to preserve important wetland habitats and is a stimulator of the economy, supporting the manufacturing, hospitality and retail sectors. It is also important in generating expenditure in rural economies and supporting jobs.
Duck hunting is managed sustainably in Victoria and is regulated to ensure that the conservation status of game ducks and non-game species are not put at risk. Hunting organisations contribute much effort into conserving and restoring waterfowl habitat, installing water control structures, erecting nesting boxes and controlling pest plants and animals.
Duck hunting and animal welfare
The Victorian Government has standards in place to protect the welfare of animals. Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals in Hunting is in place to prevent cruelty and encourage the considerate treatment of animals that are hunted or those used in hunting. The Game (Wildlife) Regulations 2012 ensure that animals are not hunted during periods of vulnerability (eg. breeding, moult and periods of food shortage), that humane hunting methods are used and that any wounded birds are put down humanely.
The Victorian Government is also delivering the Victorian Shotgun Education Program which is designed to teach hunters how to be more efficient and effective and reduce waterfowl wounding. This involves theoretical and practical training.
Protestors and duck hunting
Some sections of the community oppose duck hunting. Some anti-duck hunting activists choose to voice their opposition by entering wetlands in a coordinated effort to disrupt hunting by scaring birds away and interfering with hunters.
Such confrontational situations are unsafe for protestors, duck hunters and law enforcement officers. In the past, a voluntary Code of Behaviour was introduced to prevent potentially dangerous interactions. However, this was not effective, resulting in the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police recommending that legislation be introduced to physically separate protestors and hunters to ensure the safety of all concerned.
Public safety provisions in the Wildlife Act 1975Public safety legislation is in place to provide a safe environment for duck hunters to undertake their recreation, individuals who oppose duck hunting to express their views, and authorised officers (such as Game Officers and Victoria Police) to make sure hunters and other people are acting in a legal manner.
There are three offences under the Wildlife Act 1975 which are designed to prevent potentially dangerous interactions between hunters and protestors on wetlands.
1. It is an offence for an unauthorised person to enter or remain in specified duck hunting wetlands at certain times throughout the duck season.
This offence focuses on separating hunters and protestors during peak hunting periods on every day of the duck season.
The Wildlife (Game) Regulations 2012 identify 227 important duck hunting areas to which access by unauthorised persons is restricted between the following hours:
- midnight on the opening day of the duck season, until 10:00am on that day; and
- from two hours before sunset on the opening day until 10.00 am of the following day and for every other day of the open season; and
- on the last day of the open season, the prohibited period ends 30 minutes after sunset.
The areas to which the restrictions apply include all 186 Victorian State Game Reserves and 41 other important wetlands identified in Schedule 8 of the Wildlife (Game) Regulations 2012.
The restriction does not apply to the whole of the reserve. It only applies to the waterbody and extends out to 25 metres from the water’s edge
To be authorised to be present in the prohibited sections of these specified hunting areas during prohibited times, you must hold a current Victorian Firearms Licence (or interstate equivalent) and a current Game Licence endorsed for game birds including duck, or be exempt by the Secretary Department of Primary Industries.
2. It is an offence for an unauthorised person to approach within 10 metres of a person who is carrying a firearm or actively hunting ducks in specified hunting areas during the duck season
This offence applies throughout the duck season and to the same 227 specified hunting areas.
Protestors who place themselves in close proximity to hunters, whether to disrupt hunters from shooting, scare away birds or collect unretrieved birds, can place themselves in extreme danger of being injured or even killed.
3. It is an offence for anyone to interfere with, harass, hinder or obstruct a person engaged in hunting at any location and time
Duck hunting is a legal activity and people should be able to participate in an unhindered way. People who scare birds away, stand in the way of hunters, or distract or abuse hunters may be charged with an offence.
People committing any of these offences can be fined, or arrested and convicted by a court.
These offence provisions do not prevent animal welfare activists from protesting in a safe and lawful manner. At restricted times in specified duck hunting areas, animal welfare activists may protest on the shores of wetlands (at least 25 metres from the water’s edge), and may enter wetlands after restricted times to search for any unretrieved birds.
Understanding the risks of protesting
While recognising the right of individuals to express their views, it is also important to be aware of some of the potential risks of engaging in illegal protest activity, particularly for people who are unfamiliar with how to behave in a safe manner around waterways and firearms.
Wetlands and waterways where duck hunting occurs can be dangerous places. Deep or fast-flowing water, sink holes, submerged obstacles, temperature extremes, blue-green algae and mosquito-borne disease all pose significant safety risks.
The dangers of inexperienced people being in close proximity to firearms were graphically displayed on the opening day of the 2011 duck season when a protestor was struck by stray pellets while in a specified hunting area during a prohibited time. While the injuries were minor, the protestor was very lucky not to be blinded or even killed.
Penalties for non-compliance with the public safety provisions can result in an Infringement Notice or charges being laid and an appearance in the Magistrates Court. The maximum fine a Magistrate can impose is approximately $2,800 and a conviction can be recorded.
There can be ongoing ramifications for people receiving a court conviction. Many employers conduct record checks of any prospective employees and convictions can limit future employment opportunities and earning potential. In addition, criminal convictions can prevent entry into certain countries.
Public safety laws and the broader public
The periods where unauthorised people are restricted from entering specified hunting areas are considered to be the minimum to achieve the desired public safety outcomes.
The restrictions only apply to 227, or 6%, of Victoria's 4,000 public wetlands, affect only part of the reserves (the water body and extending out 25 metres from the water's edge), apply to only part of the day (essentially, late evening and early morning) and for only three months of the year.
At all times, unauthorised people are able to freely move about those parts of the reserve which are not restricted (i.e. all land areas to within 25 metres of the water) and, once the daily restricted period ceases, unauthorised people can enter the water (i.e. between 10:00am until two hours before sunset).
Similar provisions have been in place since 1993 and have had little impact on peoples' enjoyment of these areas.